IoT: Facilitating Preventative Medicine
IoT is allowing health systems better data to assess patient conditions, assess staff efficiency, and make use of hospital resources. This article examines the uses for IoT in Healthcare.
The Nagoya Study
In 2017, Nagoya University spearheaded a study to verify the efficacy of using IoT to monitor patient vitals and patient-staff locations. Specifically, Bluetooth LE beacons were fitted to both patients and staff. These beacons sent vital and location data to nearby gateways which pushed the data to a cloud server. From the cloud, data was accessible at nurse’s stations and on hospital smart devices. To ascertain whether the improved location and vitals data made a qualitative improvement in patient health, researchers set up alert systems connected to infusion pumps. When the vital information from the pumps reached a certain data threshold, alarms were triggered in the nearest nurse’s station. Misconfiguration of the syringe pump, occlusion, and low battery levels resulted in a data-rich notification at the nurse’s station. By notifying the nearest available nurse based on information from the hospital’s real-time location tracking system, patients received focused attention faster than they would have if nurses had to rely on routine inspections to detect equipment failure.
Providing data that combines patient and staff locations with vital stats from infusion pumps, the duration of incident were truncated. The Nagoya Hospital plans to deploy beacons en masse to create a truly ‘Smart Hospital’ where equipment failures can be predicted before they happen and patients have access to the nearest, informed staff.
Nagoya researches chose to monitor infusion pumps to provide quantitative results within the 10 month period of their study, but IoT and Bluetooth have many other applications in Smart Hospitals, from patient registrations, to equipment tracking, compliance, remote monitoring, and patient safety.
Most hospitals already monitor the locations of beds, defibrillators and surgical equipment with a system of RFID (Radio Frequency Identifier). To input data into a database, hospital staff perform routine inspections and scan equipment one by one. This process is becoming outdated as real-time tracking facilitated by Bluetooth becomes more widely adopted. Bluetooth beacons, like those used in the Nagoya study, are small, inexpensive tags which can be mounted onto walls, equipment, and carried via employee and patient cards or wristbands. The tags are programmed to broadcast location and sensor data to nearby gateways or smart devices. By broadcasting once every second, the real-time location of all staff, patients, and hospital assets can be visualized through geofencing rooms with beacons and gateways. Essentially, it is akin to GPS, but functions in indoor environments. By knowing the location of equipment, hospitals require less redundant equipment, staff are saved from searching for supplies, and patients’ needs are met more efficiently.
Bluetooth beacons can help hospital organizers detect breaches in staff compliance by monitoring person-place interactions. Geofenced rooms and micro-locations like handwashing stations can detect the unique signals from staff beacon tags and automatically sign off on completed protocols. The beacons not only produce real-time tracking visualizations, they also provide a log history which lets staff know if all patients have been checked in on.
Vaccines and oncology medication requires specific storage temperatures. By affixing temperature sensors with broadcasting beacons, staff can see a time-stamped log of environmental temperatures in their cold storage units. Preventing even one fridge or freezer malfunction can save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Patients who are confused, lost, or in stages of dementia often wander away from designated hospital areas, creating safety concerns for themselves and others. Geofencing areas of the hospital will enable alerts to be sent out to nurses when patients enter and leave wards. Nurses waste an extraordinary amount of time locating patients after shift changes. This time should be spent treating patients.
Beacons and sensors which monitor patient vitals allow doctors to remotely monitor the well-being of patients. In Singapore, the elderly are already participating in programs which fit them with health monitors which relay signals to family doctors and nearby medical centers. If an elderly patient falls, experiences a drop in blood pressure, or any negative health event, multiple points of contact are immediately alerted. Not only is this efficient – it gives chronically ill patients and the elderly a measure of independence over their lives. Remote monitoring allows patients to remain in the comfort of their home.
Royal College of Physicians representative, Professor Dacre, said: “I have seen transponders in action in Singapore and you simply tape them near the femoral artery and they tell you a patient’s pulse, their rhythm, and where they are.”
There might come a time when all medicine is preventative. IoT is allowing health systems better data to assess patient conditions. When issues are detected immediately, such as a spike in pulse from a heart-attack, actions can be taken within the life-saving window. The average person is already connected to the internet with gadgets such as fitness and heart-rate trackers. Using this readily available data in a medical context makes sense.